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Judge allows evidence in Breonna Taylor officer case to be released

A Kentucky judge overseeing the case of a former police officer charged for his alleged actions during the raid at Breonna Taylor's apartment is allowing the...

Posted: Nov 13, 2020 1:59 PM

A Kentucky judge overseeing the case of a former police officer charged for his alleged actions during the raid at Breonna Taylor's apartment is allowing the public release of evidence in the case, saying much of the information is already public.

A grand jury indicted former Louisville Metro Police Department Detective Brett Hankison on three counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree in September. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Neither Hankison nor any of the other officers were charged in connection with the death of Taylor, 26, an aspiring nurse killed after shots were fired during the raid at her apartment in March.

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Ann Bailey Smith ruled Tuesday that her order to allow the evidence to be unsealed would not go into effect for 30 days, allowing Hankison's defense attorney time to review materials.

The delay will also allow the prosecutor to redact items that will not be publicly released, including grand juror information, juvenile witnesses and photos or video showing Taylor after she died.

The Louisville Courier-Journal intervened in the case, asking for evidence to be unsealed, after both prosecutors and defense for Hankison argued to keep it sealed. The newspaper's attorney, Michael Abate, argued the public has the right to know details of the case. He praised Judge Smith's decision.

"What this means is that the public is going to have access to the evidence that the prosecution has collected and turned over to defense in this case," Abate told CNN. "They're going to be in a position to evaluate not just what the defendant did or didn't do but how the prosecution is handling the case."

After the grand jury indicted Hankison, three grand jurors said they were not presented with murder charges in connection with Taylor's death. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office, which is also prosecuting Hankison, presented the case to the grand jury.

William Stewart Matthews, an attorney for Hankison, told CNN he is going through the evidence, adding that its public release won't make much of a difference to his client one way or another.

"Most of it really is not relevant to what Brett Hankison is charged with," Matthews told CNN.

During arguments in October on whether or not evidence should be kept under seal, Assistant Attorney General Barbara Whaley expressed concern about the public release of information and documents not yet admitted as evidence, saying Hankison deserves a jury that is "as neutral as possible."

"There's been a lot of information almost daily in the media. If the discovery is filed in the record and then becomes published, that will multiply and intensify the amount of information that is out in the public," Whaley argued in October.

During those October arguments, Judge Smith pointed out that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron publicized many details from the evidence.

Smith pointed to Cameron's news conference after Hankison's indictment was announced, and multiple entries on the attorney general's website about how to obtain information presented to the grand jury in the case.

Jurors are typically asked to consider only what is admitted as evidence in a trial.

"It has been publicized. It's been publicized by your office. I think it's a little late to walk that back now," Smith said, a sentiment she echoed in her ruling Tuesday.

CNN has reached out to Cameron's office for comment on Smith's ruling.

Abate told CNN on Thursday that a fair trial doesn't require secrecy, "it requires transparency."

"The public should be extremely skeptical when the prosecutor jumps up and starts waving around concerns about fairness to the defendant from publicity to the case," Abate said.

Matthews, Hankison's lawyer, told CNN the case is "a long way from a trial date" and said that he's not "even close" to a discussion of a plea.

"At this point that's not on the table from our side or the Attorney General's side," Matthews said.

A lawsuit accusing Hankison of sexual assault and battery was filed Tuesday.

Matthews, who is not representing Hankison in that suit, told CNN that aspects of the lawsuit may be a part of the evidence that will be unsealed, but that it has "absolutely nothing to do with what he's charged with."

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